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Cheryl B. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

September 30, 2018

CHERYL B., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations of the Social Security Administration[2] Defendant.



         Plaintiff Cheryl B. (“Cheryl”) appeals the final decision of the Deputy Commissioner for Operations (“Deputy Commissioner”) of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her November 6, 2012, application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). R. (Dkt. No. 7) at 55. The application was initially denied on February 6, 2013, R. at 134, and upon reconsideration on April 29, 2013, R. at 145. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing on July 20, 2015, R. at 7-44, resulting in a decision on August 31, 2015, that Cheryl was not disabled and thus not entitled to receive DIB. R. at 55-71. The Appeals Council denied review on December 19, 2016, and the Deputy Commissioner's decision became final. R. at 6. On February 22, 2017, Cheryl timely filed this civil action seeking judicial review of the decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Dkt. No. 1.

         Following completion of briefing by the parties, the Court referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Baker, who submitted his Report and Recommendation on March 15, 2018, recommending that the decision of the Deputy Commissioner be affirmed, Dkt. No. 22 (“R&R”). The cause is now before the Court on Cheryl's timely filed Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Dkt. No. 23 (“Pl.'s Obj.”), to which the Deputy Commissioner has responded (Dkt. No. 24 (Def.'s Resp.”); 28 U.S.C § 636(b)(1)(B).

         This appeal involves the fourth step of the sequential evaluation process, which addresses whether a claimant is capable of performing past relevant work on a regular and continuing basis despite any impairment-related limitations, which is determined through an RFC assessment. 20 C.F.R. § 1545. For the reasons explained in this Order, we overrule the objections and adopt the conclusions of the Magistrate Judge.

         Background and Procedural History [3]

         After conducting a hearing, at which Cheryl was represented by counsel, the ALJ followed the fi ve-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i) to (v), concluding at step four that Cheryl is not disabled. Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One, Cheryl had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 5, 2011, the alleged disability onset date. R. at 56.
• At Step Two, she suffered from the following severe impairments: chemotherapy-induced neuropathy, migraines, vasculitis, deep thrombosis, depression, and anxiety. R. at 57.
• At Step Three, Cheryl did not have an impairment of combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. R. at 58-60.
• After Step Three but before Step Four, Cheryl had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) “to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she must be afforded the opportunity to alternate between a standing and seated position at will without being off-task for more than 15% of the workday. She can only occasionally climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps and stairs, can only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and can only [in]frequently engage in fingering, handling, and feeling activities. She must further avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold, and vibrations, must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, dusts, gases, other pulmonary irritants, and poorly ventilated areas, and must avoid all exposure to unprotected heights, the operation of motorized vehicles, and moving mechanical parts. [She] cannot engage in outdoor work, and must avoid concentrated exposure to bright lights. Moreover, she is limited to work requiring no more than detailed, but not complex, instructions in an environment free from fast-paced production requirements.” R. at 61.
• At Step Four, relying on the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”) and considering Cheryl's RFC, she was capable of performing her previous employment as a graphic coordinator. R. at 62.

         In her appeal to the Court, Cheryl took issue with three aspects of the Deputy Commissioner's final decision, argu in g that the ALJ: (1) failed to address certain conflicts on the record before him; (2) failed to accord any medical source great or controlling weight in general and failed to accord controlling weight to her treating physicians in particular; and (3) failed to adequately address her impairments alongside the ALJ's findings of psychological restrictions in rendering the RFC. Dkt. Nos. 1, 12, 21.

         The Magistrate Judge concluded that none of the errors identified by Cheryl warranted remand, noting that many of Cheryl's fact-centered points asserting that the ALJ failed to consider certain evidence on the record before him were undermined by the record itself, which plainly shows that the ALJ actually considered the evidence. Dkt. No. 22. Thus, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the Deputy Commissioner's decision be upheld.

         Standard ...

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